Osborne Announces £42m Alan Turing Institute For Big Data: Budget 2014

Turing portaint © Daniel Rogers

Alan Turing Institute to put Briish companies at the head of Big Data research, Osborne promises in surprise Budget announcement

George Osborne slipped a tech-friendly surprise in yesterday’s Budget: the government will fund a £42m facilityfor research into big data, named after British computing pioneer Alan Turing.

The Alan Turing Institute will ensure that Britain leads the way in big data and algorithm research, said Osborne: “I am determined that our country is going to out-compete, out-smart and out-do the rest of the world.”

A spokesman for the Treasury said, “the intention is for the work to benefit British companies to have an advantage in big data,” adding  that the Institute could be an entirely new facility or use existing space. There will be a public tender later this year.

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Osborne praised the pioneering work of Turing, who is widely considered as the founder of computer science, and a World War Two hero for his codebreaking work  at Bletchley Park, but was later persecuted for his homosexuality.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, in my maiden speech here in this House I spoke of Alan Turing, the codebreaker who lived in my constituency, who did more than almost any other single person to win the war, and who was persecuted for his sexuality by the country he helped save,” Osborne told the House, saying he was ‘delighted’ that Turing had received a posthumous Royal Pardon in December last year.

“Now, in his honour, we will found the Alan Turning Institute to ensure Britain leads the way again in the use of big data and algorithm research,” said Osborne.

Funding for the Institute will come from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and its board will report to the science minister, David Willetts, although no news on who will lead the Institute has been announced so far.

Turing, who led the team which cracked the German Enigma code, and contributed theoretical and practical work to the early development of computers, was convicted of “indency” in 1952. He died two years later, after being excluded from government code work and submitting to hormone treatments known as “chemical castration”.

News of the Institute’s creation was met by widespread acclaim from the professional and business world, which is increasingly looking to big data to further its horizons.

“The creation of the Alan Turing Institute for Data Science comes at a critical time in the digital evolution,” said Tom Lewis, data analytics partner at PwC, who felt the vast amount of messages collected at Bletchley Park by Turing and his code-breaking colleagues could be seen as the first example of big data.

“Big data analytics is increasingly on the agenda of business leaders, as it has the potential to help them grow their businesses, manage cost and decrease risk. It would be a fitting tribute to Alan Turing.”

“This is really welcome news for the UK,” said  Alwin Magimay, UK head of digital and analytics at KPMG. “Data scientists are what computer programmers were to the UK economy in the nineties. We as a nation need to industrialise this discipline to ensure that British business can prosper from understanding the potential of the data and turn it into a competitive business advantage.

“The investment of £42 million is a powerful signal to businesses, academic institutions and investors to sit up and realise that big data isn’t just a term coined by the technology world but that it presents a real opportunity for UK business to gain value from the abundance of data being created in a digital and connected world.”

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